There is an old story that I heard while I was in seminary. Several Baptists are sitting around and one asks, “If you were not a Baptist, what would you be?” One thought a few minutes and said, “Well, I guess I could be a Methodist.” Another said, “I could be comfortable as a Disciples of Christ member.” One did not answer, so he was asked, “What would you be if you were not a Baptist?” He readily responded, “I’d be ashamed.”
I have learned a lot about Christian groups since then. I now know that there are a lot of different kinds of Baptists. In their Handbook of Denominations in America (11th ed.), Mead and Hill identify 20 Baptist groups in the United States alone. Wikipedia lists over sixty. The Baptist World Alliance reports more than 41 million members worldwide in more than 150,000 congregations. I now understand that Baptists agree on certain principles, but they differ on others such as eschatology, theology (Calvinism versus Arminianism), support from taxation, the gifts of the spirit, how the Bible should be interpreted (hermeneutics), whether or not to send and support missionaries, who should participate in the Lord’s Supper, church governance and authority, the role of women in the church, and gender issues.
I continue to learn about other denominations through conversation, experience, and study. I have had the opportunity to know those who have left other denominations and become Baptists (but still think like Methodists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, etc., about many personal matters). Some of my friends who were once Baptists are now Methodists, Lutherans, or Episcopalians but still carry some of their “Baptist baggage” with them. I find very often that I seem to have more in common with some of those in other denominations that I do with those in my own church.
All of this provided two key insights for me. First, identifying myself as a Baptist (even as a progressive Baptist) does not really say who I am. Labels are convenient, but they don’t truly define the complexity of an individual. Second, I am part of the body of Christ—a rich, diverse group of individuals—and I want to embrace that identity.
You may note that I have changed the tag line of this blog from “progressive Baptist” to “Christ-follower.” I am still a Baptist and don’t expect to be otherwise, but many of the things that I comment upon and about which I am concerned apply to Christians from various Christian traditions. They are common concerns among believers. This change is a small effort on my part to acknowledge my unity with all who call upon the name of Christ. To God be the Glory!